An evening with the Arensky Chamber Orchestra

Hi guys,

Monday always comes around so quick! However, it’s exciting as I have a brand new blog post for you. This time, I’m sharing something slightly different, an evening of classical music with the Arensky Chamber Orchestra in the Oak Room at the Hospital Club, Covent Garden.

They kicked off this season on 10th of October Brahms Symphony #2 and Hungarian Chamber Jam which I filmed for you guys. The Arensky Chamber Orchestra begins each evening with a unique cocktail inspired by the programme and created by the Club’s master mixologist, Nicolas Lespagnol.

The orchestra led by William Kunhardt who not only engaged with the crowd throughout the evening, but he agreed to a short interview discussing his plans with ACO and talking about his love for classical music. I’m grateful to William who was so kind to take the time and answer the following questions for my readers.

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1. You seemed so passionate during the concert which we really enjoyed. What inspires you the most?

I think it’s the audience that inspires me the most – particularly with regard to the ACO. For me the most rewarding part of being a musician is the effect a great performance can have on the people listening – It can do anything from giving them a chance to escape their worries to helping recall their most important memories to even inspiring them to completely change something in their lives. Of course, the feeling of being able to express things through music is very special and performing these great masterpieces is an incredible privilege but what drives me to push myself and to keep innovating is the idea that with the next performance I can find a way to move people in new and even more profound ways. That’s the basic motivation behind everything we do at ACO – finding a new way of performing that is more engrossing and emotionally charged than the traditional way.

2. During your concert, you mentioned that you used to play the violin. When and how did you get into conducting and would you say you prefer one over the other?

Conducting is an odd musical profession because you make no sound while you do it! Because of that I believe a conductor has to have a strong practical training – otherwise being relevant, helpful and convincing to the people you’re conducting is difficult. That’s why I did a degree in violin before focusing full time on conducting. It’s always been my goal to become a conductor and so I started doing it as soon as I moved to London for that degree, but I knew that if I was going to reach the levels I wanted to, I would need the instrumental grounding first.

3. I was excited when you mentioned that you embrace social media shares during your concert and the whole younger approach to classical music that you guys sport. Do you have any suggestions as to how you would make classic music more popular with younger generations?

It’s a tough question and I don’t claim to have the definitive answer – but it’s something I’ve spent a long time thinking about and I’ve whittled it down to this. First of all, it’s important to say there is nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘out-of-date’ with the music itself. It’s a question of exposing people to it, giving them familiarity and understanding. In a long term sense that should start as school: if you look at Venezuela, where there’s a nationwide project called El Sistema that involves kids in classical music from a very young age, as many children want to become violinists as footballers, something that would be hard to imagine here in the UK…it just shows you that the basic challenge is getting people involved to the art form, whether as listeners or players. So of course, in an ideal world, we’d have a similar education system here too but as that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. So what I’ve tried to do is redesigning how the music is presented so that it fits with the world we live in today and so that the listener requires no familiarity with either the music or the traditions of concert going. In a funny way, I’ve tried to take the emphasis away from just the music and focused my attention on the complete experience, on developing the evening as a whole:

1. First, I always tell a story. We love stories – from newspapers to films, it’s the characters, their history and their lives that fascinate us most. Classical music is full of the greatest, most moving narratives ever written – from the plots of the pieces themselves to the outrageous people that wrote and performed it over the years – but as artists we rarely take the time to tell our audiences about them. So I make a point of talking to people from the stage at every event, not as a lecturer but as a story-teller, trying to bring those tales to life before people hear them in musical form. I think this is so important in a long term sense – if you can connect people to the music in this way you’ll grow their passion for classical music permanently. So in other words you’ll create fans of the genre, not just that performance – which is vital for the future of our art form

2. Making concerts social. For me, concerts are massively anti-social in their traditional format. They involve sitting still and in silence for long periods of time, brief intervals that barely give you a chance to say hello to the people you’re with and awkward timings – unless it’s the weekend a 7.30 concert makes getting dinner between work and the show a hassle and probably means it’ll end late enough that grabbing a drink afterwards isn’t an option either! So making concerts social occasions has been a mission for the last year or so. Partnering with the Hospital Club has been massive in that regard – working in a cabaret venue solves so many of those problems and having the chefs and mixologists on site makes creating something inherently social so easy. But also relaxing some of the rules and breaking up the format helps. So you can eat your food during our concerts or take pictures and engage with us on social media. There are waiters knocking around to take new orders during the concert, plenty of breaks between sets to chat or replenish your glass and we try to keep things shorter than the average concert (70 minutes of music is the golden standard!) to give people time to do something else with their evening!

3. Lastly, I always try to make it personal. It’s connected to telling stories, but I think it’s really important that when you come to our concerts you get to know us a bit better as well as the music. I think most pop singers’ popularity comes as much from the way they let people into their lives as well as their music – the ones with the biggest followings are always the ones who give time to their fans above and beyond the songs. Because ours is a very complex art form and requires so much practice we can get lost in the music a bit and neglect this aspect. But actually that’s no excuse – it’s so important to make the effort, and actually in wasn’t always this way – Liszt was famous for hanging out before concerts with his audience then casually climbing onto the stage from the stalls! So we’ve invented our ‘warm-up act’ slots (where individual musicians present a solo set and chat to the audience) and post concert ‘jams’ (where a few of the players will get together and perform in small ensembles). It’s about creating informal settings where you can get to know the individual people behind the music.I’m definitely still learning in this regard, so there’ll be many more developments like this to come – we’re currently introducing open rehearsals and hopefully Q and A sessions soon.

4. Who is your favourite composer?

It changes all the time. For ACO concerts, I have to do a lot of research so I can talk about the music as well as perform it and as most composers are the most interesting and extraordinary people I usually end up loving whoever I’m learning about at the time. At the moment, that’s Rachmaninoff, who had an extraordinary life. Despite his success as a pianist he suffered a lot. He was completely devoted to Russia and incredibly patriotic, but had to flee when the Bolsheviks rose to power and was never able to return. I think he pined for his homeland every day of his life, which is why there is often this wistful sadness underlying his music.

5. If you could spend a day with him in London now, what would you do?

Well, it’s not London-specific but the first thing I’d do is show him how popular his music is today. He was writing such nostalgic, backwards-looking music at a time when Western culture was really focused on the avant-garde. I think he had a fear that his music was irrelevant and out-of-date, and indeed many prominent people labelled it that throughout his life. I’d want to show him that today, probably along with Beethoven, he’s the most-performed composer in the world. Going back to London, beyond his music he absolutely loved fast cars and bought a new one every year, so we’d probably have a day out tat Goodwood or Silverstone to show him what ‘fast’ looks like today!!

6. What would your perfect Sunday be?

Classical music is an incredible profession: you get to meet so many different people and travel to different countries all the time, but there are a few downsides. You do spend a lot of your life indoors and given that it’s a passion that has become a job it does have a tendency to bleed into your home life – not healthy in the long term! Finally, you tend to be away from your loved ones a lot more than would be ideal. So with all that in mind (weather permitting!!) I like to get out of the house with my partner and head off on long walks. There’s a lot more green space around and near London than you’d think and we have fun finding new places to explore. Finally, we both have pretty hectic schedules and try to deal with that by living/eating as healthily as possible – but Sunday is always a cheat day so whatever happens during the day we have to finish up with something delicious and very bad for you!!

7. Any spots in London that you would recommend to my readers?

Two things I would recommend: first if you want to stay in town and do something fun try the Ropewalk/Maltby Street market. It’s like Borough Market’s little brother, but more secret and tucked away: delicious food, quirky shops and amazing produce stalls. There are some beautiful restaurants down there too – especially a tiny tapas place – which are open when the market isn’t on. Staying on the theme of the last question – it’s probably too late in the year now, but if we get any miraculously late good weather and you want to get out of town go to Painshill Park. It takes an hour to get to from Clapham but it’s an amazingly peaceful place and worth the journey- perfect if you need to escape and/or stretch your legs. Also, there are some mad decorative buildings hidden away throughout the park like a hermit’s cave and a crystal grotto!

I hope you guys like the post we sure had a blast attending. ACO SEASON DATES are below.

October 10th, 7.30pm
Season Launch: Brahms Symphony #2 and Hungarian Chamber Jam
November 28th, 7.30pm
The Beat: featuring Steve Reich and Jean Sibelius
March 26th, 7.30pm
Infernal Dance: Rachmaninoff and Bartok
April 23rd, 7.30pm
The Twilight of the Gods: Wagner’s Gotterdamarung




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